What Is The Difference Between A Notary And A Witness?

When it comes time to make a document legally binding, the final step is having the document signed. However, since laws in most states vary regarding this process, it is crucial you know what must be done to ensure the document is legally valid. In most cases, this will involve using a notary public or enlisting others to act as witnesses to the document's signing. If you are unfamiliar with the differences between notaries and witnesses, here are answers to your most common questions. 

What is a Notary Public? 

A notary public is an official appointed by the state to have the authority to notarize documents. In doing so, they verify identities by checking identification, make sure all parties present understand the contents of the document, and place a seal or stamp of approval on the document to show it has been notarized. In situations where a notary suspects fraud, is unsure of a person's identity, or believes one party has been coerced or does not understand what they are signing, they can refuse service.

What is a Notary's Purpose? 

The main purpose of a notary is to attest to the validity and proper execution of a legal document. This is important, since having a document notarized ensure the signers will not have to testify in court as to their signatures on the document, since the notary will have already verified they are legitimate.

Where Can I Find a Notary?

Well, right here. You can find a notary by searching your area on this site. Also, notaries can be found in many settings, such as banks, courthouses, college campuses, and military bases. As for the cost of using a notary, this can vary depending upon the state and type of document. While banks often provide this service free to their customers, the standard fee range is generally $2-$20.

What Documents Need a Notary?

Examples of documents needing a notary include wills, prenuptial agreements, contracts, affidavits, power of attorney, and property deeds.

What is a Witness?

A witness is a neutral third-party who watches a signer execute a legal document. To be a witness, a person must be at least 18 years old, of sound mind, and will in no way benefit from the document being signed.

What Does a Witness Do?

A witness, while not being required to know or understand what is contained in the document, must confirm the identities of those executing the document, physically observe the signing by all parties, and then sign the document themselves.

What is the Purpose of a Witness?

The main purpose of a witness is to verify no forgery occurred in the signing of the document. While every document will not necessarily require a witness to observe the signing, most legal forms such as wills often have certain signing requirements associated with them. In having a witness verify identities and signatures, any disputes that may arise can often be settled very quickly.

Which Documents Need a Witness?

Common examples of documents requiring a witness include wills, property deeds, divorce decrees, and mortgage agreements. In most jurisdictions, a notary public can serve as a witness. However, if they are witnessing the signing of a document, they are not allowed to verify their signature as a notary, since this constitutes a conflict of interest.

By knowing the key differences between a notary and witness, you can avoid many potential legal troubles. Whether it is a last will and testament, business contract, power of attorney, divorce decree, or other important document, knowing how to ensure the proper legal execution of the document can be crucial to avoiding what could be numerous court hearings and legal challenges in the years ahead.